EVERYONE said it could never be done. Yet when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in front of hundreds, it immediately become one of Oxford’s historic moments.
The heroic tale of the record-breaking run will now get its telling in a new outdoor production at the very track where history was made.
The Story of the Four Minute Mile, presented by the Oxford Playhouse, has been created using eyewitness accounts collected after an appeal in the Oxford Mail.
The play, which opens tonight, forms part of the Playhouse’s Plays Out series, which stages theatre in unusual places across Oxford.
Co-writer and director Jake Oldershaw said: “We have had a great response, People came from as far afield as Australia, so the story really has captured people’s memories.
“They range from someone who just said ‘I fell off my bike when I heard the cheers’ to much longer descriptions.”
Sir Roger, now 83, broke the record on May 6, 1954, at the Iffley Road Running Track. The race was broadcast live on BBC radio.
Spectators remembered how as the time was being read out, all the words after “three minutes” were drowned out by cheers.
Mr Oldershaw said: “Some of the stories are quite moving.
“It’s a funny one because people from all over the world make pilgrimages to the track.
“But then you have people living just round the corner who might not know the event happened in Oxford at all.”
The play invites people to walk a mile in Bannister’s footsteps and hear from different people on the route.
Earlier this week, Sir Roger popped into rehearsals to meet the cast, including Timothy Allsop, who is playing the lead.
Mr Allsop, 29, said: “It was very strange to play someone who is still living and to actually meet them.
“We talked about how the sport had changed from amateur to professional.
“I knew about the four-minute mile but I had no idea he went on to become a neurologist or about how he was spurred on by coming fourth in the Olympics beforehand.”
Earlier this year the Oxford Mail spoke to Jan and Bob Burgess from Kidlington, who were there on the day.
Mrs Burgess said: “I just remember the wonderful cheer that went up when they read his time out.
“Roger’s face was a picture. I don’t think he believed it. He looked like he was going to collapse.”
l The play runs until Sunday, May 13. Tickets cost £8 on 01865 305305 or oxfordplayhouse.com.